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 My sister has the exact right idea about Christmas presents. Every year, she buys me the "Roger Ebert Movie Yearbook," which typically comes out in August or September. Itís a new edition each time, and I have always wanted it and I always will. I donít even have to ask anymore. Every Christmas, she buys the book, I open it, I thank her, and Iím set for the next year. She has done her sisterly duty. It is no muss, no fuss. Merry Christmas. I wish it were always this easy.

For whatever reason, I have the hardest time shopping for appropriate holiday gifts. Itís just difficult for me to figure it out how the way I feel about someone transfers into a material good.

I mean, my friend Bruno is as upstanding, loyal and upfront a guy as I know, which means the logical Christmas gift is, uh Ö a trophy? A pinwheel hat? Some sort of Pokemon card? Maybe a George Foreman grill? (I ended up getting him nothing, and Iím skipping his New Yearís Party to boot. Nice.)

Iím just awful at it. I typically donít even wrap my presents. This year, my father received a Mark McGwire bobblehead doll, my mother a book about the Catholic Church, and my sister The Onionís new book. Adequate enough gifts, I guess, but nothing special, nothing that lets them know how I feel about them. With my family, thatís OK. They know I love them, if just because none of us ever had any choice in the matter. But Ö

The girlfriend.

This is the third Christmas of my life when Iíve actually been dating anyone, and I had free passes the first two times. The first was the ex-fiancťe, and my present then was an engagement ring. Pretty simple, and as a general rule, with noted and crucial exceptions, women tend to like those. Canít go wrong.

The second was when I was about to move to New York, and I bought her a plane ticket. Again, simple. Not romantic, but efficient. Neither girl was particularly demanding, and besides, we were just kids. They didnít expect much.

But this girl Ö this is a woman who told me that Oscar de la Renta was "SO 1990s" (what does that mean, exactly? Have we been in the "oughts" long enough to set our trends? Man, I gotta start watching E! or something).

What do you get a woman who would say something like that? I tried to gather some clues, but all I received were a list of things not to get. No clothes (I cannot be trusted). No electronics (I had initially planned on a DVD player, but she said electronics were not romantic. Jeez, itís not like I was getting her a blender, or a weed whacker or something). No perfumes (my lack of sense of smell ruins me every time). Oh, Will, and that book I told you I wanted Ö I bought it yesterday. Itís awesome! I was helpless.

My friend Eric didnít help. Heíd already talked to her and informed me, "Youíre fucked. Sheís getting you so much good stuff, youíre wonít even be able to compare. Itís probably not even worth trying. She lives for this gift-giving crap."

Besides, Iím a barely employed writer in New York City. Itís not exactly like Iím wallowing in excess holiday cash. If she was wanting matching Gucci watches, well, it wasnít happening this decade.

She recognized this and even tried to help. She gave me explicit instructions about this one ring she was wanting from Banana Republic, which is apparently a store. She took no chances. She gave me the exact size, color, shape and texture, and just to make certain Baboon Will could still figure it out, she sent the exact order number from the storeís Web site. "Print it out. Carry it in with you. If they have any questions, do not attempt to figure it out on your own. Call me. Do not screw this up."

I am so easy. I asked for three things. A new photo album, the New Yorker desk planner and the new Bob Dylan CD. Cheap and simple. I would have no such luck.So I did what any blue-blooded kid would do when faced with the quandary of buying gifts for a stylish, fashion-obsessed girlfriend: I grabbed the gayest friend I knew and dragged him to SoHo with me. To prepare, I didnít eat for a week and walked whenever I could to avoid the $1.50 subway charge. Whatever it took. Every penny counts.

I dutifully followed instructions and got the ring, as well as some shoes it was strongly suggested I purchase. On a whim, I popped in beauty stores and gathered a bunch of lotions and sprays and soaps and other shit for a big products grab bag.

I even wrote a real long letter full of fawning, embarrassing-if-it-gets-in-the-wrong-hands, how-do-I-love-thee sentiments, on nice stationery with nice penmanship and everything. I had my friend smell some candles for me. Hell, I even popped in a Victoriaís Secret, though, due to an aversion to lacey underthings (goddamit goddammit goddammit!), I had to just get pajamas. They were silk. I think. It was soft, I know that.

But I needed a signature, centerpiece gift. You know the one. The one you open last, the special one, the one that, like, means something. I was vexed. No clothes, no jewelry, no appliances, no sex toys (because, honestly, they scare me. I can never figure out where anything might possibly go. And does that thing really require an extension cord?), no money. And then I saw it.

The name was right there. "Christian Dior." I remembered hearing it in that one Madonna song from that one Madonna movie. And my friend egged me on. "Youíre buying the name, man. Girls like her appreciate that shit. Itíll show you have class." I informed him I have no class. "Yeah, but you can pretend."

It was a picture frame. Not even a very big one. A freaking picture frame. But it came in a Christian Dior box, with "CD" on the back, in a little Christian Dior packet. It could be mistaken for nothing other than a Christian Dior, uh, thing. "Youíre buying the name," he reiterated. Expensive name. Perhaps someday my name will be worth triple figures when attached to a picture frame. I highly doubt it. Iíll probably have to shoot someone important.

But I bought it. I felt I had no choice. (It was a fine picture frame. For the price I paid for it, it damned well better be.) I put my favorite picture of us in it, taken with an old, ratty camera that fades everything out until anyone photographed looks like the guy in that "Powder" movie. This was the gift, along with the ring, that would make the difference. That would show her that I was cool and hip and down and stylish and fancy and would make her leap to the heavens in unbridled joy.

This brought the final tally to:

Christian Dior Picture frame

Way oversized Lord and Taylor coat

Victoriaís Secret silk pajamas (non-edible, sadly)

Two books (both girly)

Two CDs (both girly)


Beauty products


Ring (all specifications met)

Long, windy, fawning letter

I was told I wasnít going to be able to compete with her in this gift thing Ö but I sure as hell tried. I even wrapped them. (Poorly.) It was the most I had ever spent, and the hardest I had ever tried for Christmas. Iíd like to say it was because I care deeply about this girl. That would be partly true. But it was, like everything else, a competition, and I feared that if I lost, sheíd, like, hate me or something. I mean, come on, dear readers, youíre on to me at this point. Any girl who would possibly like me Ö I better not screw that up. These gifts, I was sure, would make the difference.

And then Christmas Day came, spent with her family. I opened her presents, which, predictably, were thoughtful and kind and generous and way more than a peon like me would deserve. (Perhaps predictably, I got just about everything under the sun except a photo album, a New Yorker planner and the Bob Dylan CD). And she opened hers.

"Ugh! This ring is UGLY! It didnít look like that on the Web site. Did you save the receipt?"

I did not. Oh, and the picture frame? "Oh Ö a picture frame. Um Ö thatís, uh Ö nice, Will, thanks. Itís a picture frame." I learned later that Christian Dior was also, sadly, SO 1970s. Shit man, I didnít know. I was four when it was the Ď70s.

I felt horrible. I had failed. She was polite, and appreciated the effort, and even liked the pajamas Ö but I still sucked at buying presents, and there was no hiding from it. (For the record, she did like the majority of the gifts and w as most appreciative. Sheís good like that.)

And then she opened the letter. "That was the nicest thing anyoneís ever written me. I love you." And all was well and happy and glorious in the world, and flowers and manna fell from the sky, and the rose grew in Brooklyn, and the hens smiled happy hen smiles, and the sun rose over the ocean, and everything was gorgeous, and I realized that next year, I think Iím just going to try to stick with what Iím good at.



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